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Harri Suominen, Asia Exchange, Finland

If you could spend five minutes with anyone from the international education sector, who would it be and what would you ask them? Introducing The PIE’s latest series, Five Minutes With… where we speak to leaders from across the sector and asking them all the big questions


Photo: Harri Suominen

"If more people study abroad, we would have less wars"

When Harri Suominen started his company Asia Exchange, with his childhood friend Tuomas Kauppinen, he had one goal – to provide study abroad programs for a truly worldwide community. Not only that, his other entity Edunation also helps students find study programs in Finland. With such a drive to make students’ lives better, we wanted to find out more about what makes Suominen tick.

What do you like most about your job?

I like the impact that it has for young people’s lives. It’s life changing – period.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

I’d eliminate barriers to students being able to study abroad. If more people study abroad, we would have fewer wars, we would have fewer conflicts in our world; more people would be able to achieve their dreams and get a new direction for their lives. More mobility, more getting to know other cultures for yourself when you are abroad is paramount.

Your proudest career moment?

A student was about to give up studying with us in Bali, Indonesia. The first week she was having a major culture shock and that she wanted to get back home. We were able to convince her to stay. At the end of the semester, in the closing ceremony, she was giving a speech in Bahasa Indonesian language and saying how this changed her life. She is a new person. She is so much more self-confident now. I would also say I’m the most proud of the general, true impact of our internationalisation work. How we have been able to grow from a start-up launched by two Finnish boys to the most international and affordable study abroad provider in the world.

What keeps you awake at night?

Well, when the pandemic hit, that kept me awake for a while. But really, it’s not about problems or issues. It’s more about opportunities. Our business has grown out of opportunities. So basically, if I’m awake at night it might be that I’m just brainstorming something that I should be brainstorming during work time!

Worst work trip?

Well, I don’t have a specific answer, but we have a love-hate relationship with Sweden – so going there is always interesting!

“[This student was] saying how this changed her life”

Biggest challenge to your profession?

There are always outside problems – big ones like the pandemic, and conflicts, of course. But in any organisation, it’s if the team doesn’t work well together, if we don’t feel that we are scoring in the same goal. We all have different roles on the field. It takes so much more effort if the team doesn’t work well – but luckily, in my team, everybody understands the meaningfulness of our work.

Best international education conference and why?

The most recent one! Always. It’s good to get the hype of what happened, all the feedback, the good meetings – the best conference is the previous conference. And of course, the most important one is the one upcoming – whatever it may be.

Worst conference food or drink experience?

Unfortunately, I have to say that was here in Finland – we have these spring days for professionals in international education, and they brought out some Finnish wine. We are not really known for being a wine country, so…

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